Blind gay man on dialysis denied Meals on Wheels

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A Lancaster County gay man who’s blind and on kidney dialysis has been denied low-cost meals through his local Meals on Wheels agency since 2016, allegedly due to anti-LGBT bias, according to a complaint filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

In May 2016 “Michael Doe” injured his right leg and twisted his left ankle after falling due to being blind. A social worker at a local medical center recommended Doe for Meals on Wheels following his injury, according to the complaint.

Between May 2016 and September 2016, Doe, 62, received from United Churches- Elizabethtown Area Meals on Wheels two meals daily for $5 from Monday through Friday. His life partner “Michael Roe,” 54, would sometimes accept the meal from the delivery person. In October 2016, the coordinator telephoned Doe and informed him that he no longer would be receiving meals. Doe asked why he wasn’t given advance notice. The coordinator replied: “Why don’t you have that man that lives with you make your meals?” according to the complaint.

The following week, Roe asked the coordinator why Doe was terminated. The coordinator said Doe didn’t pay his bills on time. Roe then showed up at the Elizabethtown Recreation Center where the coordinator worked and presented receipts showing that Doe had paid all of his bills. The coordinator replied, “You don’t speak for [Doe],” according to the complaint.

In October 2016, Doe contacted the Pennsylvania Council for the Blind to intervene on his behalf. A representative from the council telephoned the coordinator to inquire why the service was canceled. The coordinator didn’t mention anything about Doe not paying bills on time. Instead, she said Doe was “not blind enough,” according to the complaint.

Doe contacted the coordinator, hoping to renew the meals service. During that phone call, the coordinator said Doe was disqualified because he lived with someone, according to Doe’s complaint.

On May 18, 2017, Doe received a cease-and-desist letter from Meals on Wheels informing him to stop contacting the agency and that he would not be receiving meals from the agency “now or in the future. You do not meet the qualification guidelines of the program.” Moreover, the letter said Roe will never receive meals from the agency. The agency sent a copy of the letter to the local police department.

In a Feb. 24 filing with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, attorneys for the men emphasized Doe’s ongoing health problems and his need for the meals. The filing states that Doe has suffered multiple heart attacks since 2017. In October 2018, he had five stents placed in his body for heart problems. In May 2019, he underwent surgery to have six more stents placed in his body. 

In defense papers, Meals on Wheels stated that Doe was granted five months of meals on a temporary basis due to his slip-and-fall injury. But he didn’t meet the qualifications for long-term meals because he’s not 65, homebound or unable to provide meals for himself. Also, Meals on Wheels said Doe was “frequently” abusive verbally to volunteers. Meals on Wheels also accused Roe of impersonating Doe on one occasion. Moreover, Meals on Wheels urged the PHRC to dismiss the complaint because sexual orientation isn’t a protected category in Pennsylvania’s antibias law.

Doe and Roe maintain they’re victims of anti-LGBT bias. They’re asking PHRC for a clear ruling that sexual orientation is a protected category in Pennsylvania’s antibias law because it’s a form of sex discrimination, said Justin F. Robinette, an attorney for the men.

Robinette said it’s wrong for the agency to permanently ban both men from receiving meals. “It’s outrageous that these gentlemen have been permanently barred from receiving meals from this agency, for no good reason,” Robinette told PGN. “I’m convinced if they weren’t gay they would have been treated differently. It’s unfortunate that we had to initiate legal proceedings over something so basic as receiving meals.”

The Meals on Wheels agency issued this statement: “United Churches-Elizabethtown Area operates a Meals on Wheels program. United Churches-Elizabethtown Area has a written non-discrimination policy that prohibits discrimination, including discrimination based on gender, gender expression and sexual orientation. One of the individuals in question was provided meal services for a limited period of time. His sexual orientation was known at the outset and was never a factor in the decision to provide services. United Churches-Elizabethtown Area is vigorously defending the claims and denies any discrimination against the complainants. We do not plan to provide any further comment on this matter.”A PHRC spokesperson issued this statement: “PHRC does not discuss the facts of any case prior to/if a case goes to public hearing. As a matter of fact. we do not even confirm or deny that a case exists. Each complaint is investigated thoroughly and decisions are based on evidence collected from both sides during the investigative process.”